You know, perceived wisdom dictates that Scottish Labour’s election of the East Renfrewshire MP Jim Murphy as party leader is some sort of huge mistake. That Murphy will somehow prove to be the final nail in the coffin of Scottish Labour and that this paves the way for the SNP to dominate Scottish politics. I’m not entirely sure that this will be the case.
That’s not to say there are not bad points to Murphy. He still occupies a position on the parties right wing, a leading member of the Progress group – the group looking to keep the Blairite flame alive within Labour. Pro-Israel and pro-Trident, I wouldn’t even be surprised if Murphy was a member of the British American Institute. In his acceptance speech, he even reiterated his aims through the Blairite prism – “More entrepreneurs, not fewer. A growing middle class that more families are joining”. I think that the voters within the Labour party have decided to put those policy positions aside.
Who Scottish Labour voted for was someone who is very much a political operator. Someone who knows where the levers of power are and how to use them. I’d bet that Murphy is also the sort of person that would know where the bodies are buried, so to speak. Someone who, whatever your opinion on how Johann Lamont was treated, is a huge upgrade on both Lamont and Gray.
The SNP of course have welcomed Murphy’s win. What is interesting is that the view from Westminster is that the SNP are somehow scared of Murphy. I genuinely don’t think they are. There’s not even a sense of apprehension there, which is not a good sign. Had the SNP had a sense of apprehension at Gordon Brown’s legendary skills at talking to “Labour” people, then they would have reacted better to Brown’s single handed attempt at saving the UK and of course “The Vow”.
Had they not underestimated the enhanced standing Brown still has in parts of Scotland, maybe the referendum would not have been lost. Judging by the reaction to Murphy’s election, this is a lesson that parts of the SNP seem unwilling to learn from. Then again, do we expect anything less from a constituency that still refuses to acknowledge the bad policy decisions that lead to defeat, instead preferring to blame a biased media. Oh and thick “No”voters.
Whether Murphy will be a success though depends on whether he can change up and not simply fall into Blairite tropes. There are signs already that Murphy is willing to move left in the policy of a 50% tax rate. Another facet Murphy will have to display will be his ability to make right wing policies sound left wing. Brown was a pass master at this – maybe the best. It’s not universally recognized that Salmond was also rather good at this too – judging by the popularity among pro-Indy supporters of the proposed policy to cut Corporation tax.
I don’t subscribe to the belief that this is automatically the final nail in the coffin of Scottish Labour. Like so much in the British political landscape, so much is in flux. Murphy’s demeanor and conduct could seal Scottish Labour’s fate. On the other hand, the SNP could let their complacency take root and make it easier for Murphy to bring Scottish Labour back from the brink. Whatever happens, I think we can safely say the scene is now set for the electoral battles next spring and in 2016.